The Grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, The Love of God, and The Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you All. Amen.
John 15:1 “I am the true Vine, and My Father is the Vinedresser. 2 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it, that it may bear more fruit. 3 You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the Vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in Me. 5 I am the Vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch, and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. 7 If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done for you. 8 By this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.” (NASB)
Martin Luther wrote the following about this morning’s Gospel lesson. “Imagine the Vinedresser coming along and chopping about [your] roots with his mattock or his hoe and cutting the wood from [your] branches with his clipper or his pruning hook, [you] would be [say] “Ah, what are you doing? Now I must wither and decay, for you are removing the soil from my roots and are beating my branches with those iron teeth…You are treating me more cruelly than one treats any tree or plant.’ But the Vinedresser would reply: ‘You are a fool and do not understand. For even if I do cut a branch from you, it is a totally useless branch; it takes away your strength and your sap. Then the other branches which should bear fruit will suffer. Therefore away with it! This is for your own good.’ But you say: ‘I do not understand and I have a different feeling about it.’ The Vinedresser will reply: ‘But I understand it well. I am doing this for your welfare . . . Now you will be able to yield more and better fruit and to produce good wine.’
That is how Christ interprets the suffering which He and His Christians are to endure on earth. . . Its purpose is to enable them to bear all the better fruit and all the more, in order that we may learn to impress this on ourselves as He impresses it on Himself.”
That was a long way of saying something we say in one short sentence, “This is going to hurt, but it’s for your good.” In the Gospel lesson this morning, Jesus teaches us about the nature of His life on this earth and the nature of our lives as Christians in this world.
We are in the Fifth week of Easter and the assigned readings are beginning to prepare us for Christ’s ascension, Pentecost, and for living a Christian life by faith alone and not by the sight of Him.
Jesus said, “I am the true Vine, and My Father is the Vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it, that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you.”
Note first of all, Jesus does not refer to Himself as one of the vines, as a vine among many other vines. When He speaks, whether it is the image of a vine or a shepherd He always makes a claim of exclusiveness. He is the Vine. He is the Good Shepherd. He is the Light of the world. He is the Groom. Jesus is Christocentric–Christ centered. He is the center of everything.
Jesus is not a “good option” or even the best option out of many different options. He’s the One and Only option for salvation. “There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)
Within the context of this conversation, John 15 (a conversation Jesus was having with His disciples on the night in which He was betrayed and culminating in the institution of the Lord’s Supper), Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life and no one comes to the father except through Me.”
Here Jesus says “I am the true Vine. That means every other vine, every other thing to which you or any other person might be attached themselves to, no matter how appealing, or popular, or desirable is a vine that will entangle, entrap, and kill you and them.
Within just a few hours of Jesus likening His Father to a Vinedresser and Himself to the Vine, Jesus would be arrested, tortured, and crucified. Everything the disciples had hoped for in regard to Jesus was about to be crushed under the sinful judgment of Roman and Jewish law.
In the Vinedresser and the Vine, Jesus was again teaching the disciples and the rest of us, that the work that God the Father does in the earthly life of His Son and in the lives of all His children who would come after Jesus, is sometimes painful. This is the first lesson to be learned from the Gospel lesson. Jesus is the Vine, the only Vine that produces eternal life and good fruit.
The second lesson to be learned is that Christians are a part of Him and He is part of them. We are “in Christ,” “with Christ,” a member of His body.” There is a unity, a mysterious bond, between the Christian and the Christ. “I am the Vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing.”
See those flowers on each end of the altar. They are dying. They don’t look like it at the moment, but it is only a matter of time and not much time at that. They have been cut off from their roots and separated from soil. They are trying to live on water drawn into the flower by the stem, not by a root system. It is an effort to forestall death, but death is coming.
The vine/branch imagery teaches us that Christ, the Vine produces good fruit through us. Apart from the Vine, Jesus says “you can do nothing.” That is a message that ought to be driven into the hearts and minds anyone who has ears to hear. There is no good fruit apart from faith in Him. Jesus is very clear on this point, even if an awful lot of Christians and church bodies aren’t.
8 By this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.” In regard to his own faith and works St. Paul said it this way, “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” (Gal 2:20).
Now all that brings us back to “this is going to hurt, but its for your good.” Jesus Christ was and is the true Vine. God the Father is the Vinedresser. He digs around the Vine. He cuts the branches. He gathers the good fruit and dispenses it. In the life of Jesus Christ, men and the devil meant all the cutting and hacking and digging, and hurting for evil. They wanted to kill and uproot the Vine.
But God the Father, the Vinedresser meant it all for good. He cut down His own Son for your good and the good of the whole world. Thus, God the Father, the Vinedresser inflicted great pain on His Only Begotten Son in our stead and for our sakes.
Through baptism Christ’s suffering and crucifixion become our suffering and crucifixion. When God looks at us, He sees the work of Christ. He sees the fruit of Christ’s works. Just as the Vinedresser cuts the vine in order to graft in a branch so also Jesus was cut so that we might become part of Him.
You are have been grafted into Christ the Vine at a branch joined to Him by virtue of your baptism and faith. Thus as part of the entire Vine, the Vinedresser cuts and digs at you in order to make you a better and more fruitful part of the Vine.
In times of pain and suffering, physical, psychological, spiritual, Christians often wonder why they are made to suffer. They wonder what purpose that suffering serves. We must admit that in those times, the answer given in the Scripture is a general and very often unsatisfying answer to those who are in the midst of suffering. It sounds almost like a platitude. “God is using suffering for our good.”
But think of it this way. Basic training in the military is suppose to hard and is often painful. The recruit has to endure an intense indoctrination into the military life so that the recruit comes to understand that he or she is a apart of something bigger than themselves. In suffering they are being prepared to serve something bigger, their country, their fellow citizens, and their brother and sisters in arms. And when the soldier, airmen, sailor, or marine decides to take the next step and become a member of some kind of special force, the suffering and hardship is all the more intense and many fail to make it through the training.
That is what the suffering of a Christians is about. Unfortunately, the Christian Church and Christians have lost this deeply biblical understanding of the Vinedresser (God the Father), the Vine (Christ Jesus), and the branches (you).
The world and many a bad theologians in the church use the lack of suffering and happiness as their bellwether to divine God’s disposition toward a person. “God wants you to be happy.” I have often heard that throughout my life.
Proverbs 3:11-12 – “My son, do not reject the discipline of the Lord
Or loathe His reproof, For whom the Lord loves He reproves, Even as a father corrects the son in whom he delights.”
The writer of the letter to the Hebrews quotes this passage and concludes “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”
The pain and suffer we have all had to and will bear in the future is the pruning and loving care of our heavenly Father. He has grafted us into Christ Jesus, the Vine and by so doing He has forgiven us all our sins and we have become branches that He nourishes us with His Word and sacraments. The harsh weather of life and those who brush up against us, are used by God to prune us so that we bear good fruit. The fruit of love, compassion, kindness, and empathy towards others who suffer.
Here is the Vine who bled, died, and rose again for you; Who was cut and thrashed and suffered all the righteous wrath of His Vinedresser Father as He was grafted to the tree of sin so that you could be grafted to Him and the life that is in Him– because apart from Him you could do nothing. He has done everything and so you life.
Life is going to hurt, but its for your eternal good.
May the Peace that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.